With 47 wins and 15 games to go, the Dallas Mavericks are assured of winning 50 for the 11th consecutive season. Trouble is that they’ve reached the Finals only once, and in three of the past four years, they’ve been eliminated in the opening round.
Remember 2007, when Dallas was the top seed and was upended by the eighth-seeded Warriors? Or how about last season, when it claimed the No. 2 seed but couldn’t get past the seventh-seeded Spurs?
Their disheartening, 104-101 loss in Portland on Tuesday night demonstrates precisely what’s right and what’s wrong with the Mavs.
Dirk Nowitzki is a high-volume scorer — 9 of 14 for 28 points vs. the Blazers — whether he’s beyond the arc, in the low post or anywhere in between. He can score on isolations, on curls off of weak-side screen/rolls or on screen/fades. In addition, he rarely takes bad shots and can be counted on to make correct passes when he’s two-timed.
Jason Terry (6 of 10, 14 points Tuesday) is a deadly spot-up shooter and is just as good when he can pull right and unload.
Jason Kidd (14 assists Tuesday) is the epitome of unselfishness and wisdom. His savvy encourages his teammates to cut hard and continually move without the ball.
Roddy Beaubois is quick as a wish and a reliable one-on-none shooter. Shawn Marion is an effective trailer/finisher when the Mavs are off and running. J.J. Barea has excellent range and can also zip his way into the paint.
Tyson Chandler gets three-to-four dunks per game operating on the receiving end of S/Rs. In addition, he’s a dynamic shot-blocker when approaching the ball from the weak side.
As a team, the Mavs hustle, always make the extra pass, are in constant motion on offense and show quick hands to intercept careless passes. Their offense is routinely dynamic, ranking 11th in the NBA with 100.2 points per game and third in field-goal percentage with .477. And, on a statistical basis, their defense is likewise admirable, allowing only 96.4 points per game, 10th in the league.
Good, but clearly not good enough to avoid underachieving in the postseason.
J-Kidd (0 for 1 for one point Tuesday) is not a threat to score, so much so that the Blazers simply went under every S/R that involved him. Kidd also has lost at least two steps at both ends of the court. In Portland, he was able to get into the paint only once. And whereas he used to be a lockdown defender, Kidd barely survives on the uphill end of the game strictly because of his smarts.
Nowitzki lacks the lateral quickness to adequately defend any opponent who can turn face and go. Similarly, his to-the-ball rotations are frequently tardy.
Beaubois has great difficulty defending S/Rs, as do most of his teammates. That’s why Dallas looks to switch on virtually every S/R situation. Unfortunately, well-coached teams like Portland can take full advantage of the resulting big-little and little-big mismatches.
Beaubois and Barea are generously listed as being 6-foot-2 and 6-foot, respectively, but are at least two inches shorter. That means that they are vulnerable to being posted up. This, in turn, compels the Mavs to give quick help, which compromises the team’s entire defense. Moreover, Barea’s lack of size led to a pair of his attempted layups being swatted.
Whenever Brian Cardinal was on the court, the Blazers aimed their offense at him for profit.
Terry is defenseless, frequently turning his head and losing touch with his man. Plus Terry’s handle and pass work are both questionable.
Although Chandler can intimidate shots in help situations, he isn’t a high-quality one-on-one defender. In addition, Marion’s days as a stopper are long gone. If Ian Mahinmi is supposed to be the defensive specialist of the future, then the Mavs are in for an extended wait.
Since Nowitzki isn’t as quick off his feet as he used to be and Chandler isn’t strong enough to establish and retain optimal rebounding position, the Mavs couldn’t control their defensive glass Tuesday. Portland’s 15-6 edge in offensive rebounds explains their 85-67 advantage in shots taken. Extra shots always translate into extra points.
The Mavs relied too much on perimeter offense — 21 of their 67 attempts coming from behind the arc — which is why the Blazers were awarded 23 free throws to the Mavs’ 13. One reason for this discrepancy was the Mavs’ confusion and impotence when confronted with zone defenses.
Terry is the only reliable point maker off the bench, and Nowitzki is the team’s solitary scoring threat in the pivot.
The Mavs’ upside is considerable, but so is their downside. And in the playoffs, when opponents have the time to thoroughly scout them, Dallas’ flaws are always magnified.
Don’t blame coach Rick Carlisle. He’s getting the most possible mileage out of his team. Instead, the onus is on owner Mark Cuban and general manager Donn Nelson, who have put together a team that has more flash than substance.
The latest absurdity issuing from Madison Square Garden is that the Knicks have raised their 2011-12 ticket prices by nearly 50 percent. Because Mike Antoni (he has no D, really) coaches only what transpires on one side of the time line, the ticket prices should have been cut in half.
• The fact that Andrew Bynum has finally come of age is demonstrated by Phil Jackson’s trusting him with more end-game time than ever before. Bynum is a primary reason the Lakers’ defense has been carrying them throughout their latest winning streak. Now, if only Kobe can be convinced to abandon his freelancing and stick to the requirements of the triangle offense, the Lakers will be shoo-ins to three-peat.
• This past week, the Celtics have lost to the Clippers, the Sixers and the Nets. Might trading Kendrick Perkins have anything to do with this? Absolutely! Boston is now being soft and thin in the middle of what used to be a rock-hard and bulky defense, and Ray Allen dearly misses the use of Perkins’ wide-body screens. O Shaq, where art thou?
• So it’s March Madness again, eh? All I can say is “humbug.” Here come three weeks of inferior coaching, myopic officiating and perhaps one or two top-notch players per team. Take notice of how seldom undergraduate offenses create good shots, especially against zones; of the numerous ridiculous calls made and not made by the zebras; plus the missed layups and unforced turnovers. Yeah, yeah, there’s the drama of win-or-go-home. But eyeballing 10 blowouts for every one thriller isn’t worth the time or the effort.
• All of the talk about Derrick Rose being the leading MVP candidate likewise leaves me cold. That’s because the MVP is a bogus award. Is the winner supposed to be the best player on the best team? The best player in the NBA? (And is the guy with the best stats the best player?) The one player who has been indispensable in his team’s wins? (How much difference would there be between the games Chicago would have lost without Rose and the games Minnesota would have lost without Kevin Love?) Or is the MVP the guy who could beat any other player in the league in a game of one-on-one?
The whole business is a gimmick to stir up controversy and thereby keep the doings of the league a hot topic. In fact, the only MVP award that means anything is the MVP of the championship series.
Even though he has been absent with leave during some of the Nets’ five-game winning streak, just knowing that Deron Williams is a part of the team has given his new teammates hope. Plus, when he’s one the court, D-Will makes all of his teammates better — which is the ultimate measure of any point guard.
• The addition of Perkins gives a big boost to the Thunder’s championship aspirations. A double-screen unto himself, Perkins will help generate more open shots for Kevin Durant as well as providing some mean-spirited bulk to protect their basket. However, his chronic foul trouble, lack of interior scoring and questionable health of his knees mean that OKC still needs another bulky big to back up Perk.
• With all their many faults, the Heat are certainly capable of beating anybody at any time. And since Perkins has been sent elsewhere, Boston has lost one of its heavy-duty advantages — making Chicago Miami’s biggest obstacle to coming out of the East.